There has been quite a good number of movies that have been inspired by the life a German- Catholic young woman named Anneliese Michel, who was believed to have been possessed by 6 or more demonic entities. More or less, folks are very familiar with Scott Derrickson‘s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” which may be the most popular one due to Hollywood‘s marketing ability. Another film that depict her life is “Exorcism: the Possession of Gail Bowers” which I haven’t seen yet. “REQUIEM” however, has been billed as the most accurate and truthful depiction of the events in Anneliese Michel’s experience with exorcism and bouts with epilepsy. The film is directed by German director Hans-Christian Schmid and presents a dramatic approach of the true events rather than approaching them with the trappings of a horror movie. The names have been changed to protect the persons involved.
Germany in the late 1970’s. Michaela Klingsler (played by Sandra Huller) is young devout Catholic woman who suffers from Epilepsy who is determined to get a college degree regardless of her condition. She sees education as a form of an ‘escape” away from her family’s overly religious ways and traditional beliefs. She shows great potential in becoming a scholar and with a very timid support from her father (Burghart Klausner), she begins to excel in her studies. She also tries to build relationships while fighting a feeling of loneliness and sexual awakening. Several months after Michaela becomes a college student and she begins to experience strange things within her psyche; Michaela begins to hear voices, she begins to see things no one else could and what is more disturbing is that she has begun to be repulsed by religious objects, prayers and priests. Science says that she has a mental sickness but Michaela believes that she is being possessed by a demon. What is real or what is a hallucination? Michaela wants to subject herself to the rites of exorcism which may prove to be more than she had bargained for…
Hans-Christian Schmidt’s “Requiem” unfolds more like a character-driven dramatization rather than a horror movie. Instead of following the usual horror movie trappings and diverting to fantastical recreations of demons spewing out goo-ish stuff , jumping out and screaming obscenities; “Requiem” is a docile film that keeps its tone quite low-key and very subtle. If you are expecting a movie with lots of scary images, gruesome make up, and strong dialogue then you may be a little disappointed and you should see “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” instead. However, if you are curious as who or what is the real Anneliese Michel then this movie will not disappoint.
A lot of the film’s theme lies on the fabric of Michaela’s potential insanity and a war of divine faith. Much of the lead character’s belief lies on the fact that medicine cannot remedy her suffering and that relief may be found in the comfort of God’s hand and the priests who try to aid in easing her suffering. The film’s script manage to raise questions about faith, religious belief and medical science without becoming preachy and passing judgment. Her experiences present a question between the three notions of possession, epilepsy and mental imbalance, the director wisely asks the right questions and brings forth an area for bafflement.
“Requiem” takes a more focused approach on its humanism rather than subjecting the audience to elaborate ‘jump’ scares and tricks with imagery. The script shows that Michaela is suffering, we witness her becoming more and more sickly, upset and towards the end, she becomes more malevolent. The atmosphere gives off an aura that the film is a factual event and most of the demonic haunting is exhibited with Michaela’s reactions and not on violent imagery. The screenplay also draws out the characters of Michaela’s parents that gives them a feeling of helplessness; they are torn on what they have to do. Even the priests are given a somewhat of a contrasting characterization as one is able to embrace the possibility of a demonic possession as presented by father Martin (Jens Hurzor) and one who may be terrified to the point of denial in father Gerhard’s persona (Walter Schmilinger). The film takes on a more relaxed approach and keeps its focus on Michaela and the situation that torments her. It is none the less unnerving as we see her deteriorating state of being.
I know it is difficult to portray a film supposedly full of factual events but director Schmid adapts the material very well; it also helps when the lead actress is as talented as Sandra Huller. Huller plays her role very well, with a restrained craft that will still bring some chills in your spine. Michaela believes she is being oppressed by evil spirits and the actress does a terrific job with the script. Huller would only do this when the timing is right and when she sees fit; after all, an oppressed-possessed individual would try to hide this fact as much as they could until it spirals out of their control. Huller plays her character with this understanding which makes it very powerful. Michaela is given a depth based on a controlled, awesome, innumerable mixture of emotions and sensations. It also brings questions as to what provoked the experiences; sexual awakening and modernization, stress from college, not taking her medicine or maybe all of the above?
“Requiem” is a film stripped down and is raw from any easy resolution to the questions. I liked the idea that the direction sidestepped the trappings of a horror movie but instead manages to bring the characters out in a compelling dramatization. Instead of invoking fear from stylized special effects and dumb jump scares, the film brings a persuasive feeling of dread by bringing forth its humanity. It makes one wonder if Michaela is indeed insane or just sick with epilepsy…or is it indeed ethereal? The doctor who tended to the real Anneliese Michel was actually recorded as saying: “there is no injection against the devil, Anneliese” in the trial.
Director Schmid manages to ask the right questions without spoon-feeding his own conclusions to his viewers. It is easily one of the best films that have tackled the subject matter of demonic possession and exorcism. “Requiem” feels very authentic to a truthful story and there is nothing more unnerving than a horror movie based on factual events. The performance of Huller (who won best actress for this film) is worth the price of the dvd; she brings you straight into the psyche of Michaela that is very creepy but at the same time, so honest and sincere in simplicity. “Requiem” is a tumultuous, realitic journey with a young woman who just wants to live her life, stay true to her beliefs…whether she is oppressed by demons or not.
*** out of **** "Requiem" is a rather ingenious and intelligently plotted little drama that also doubles as some sort of horror film. It starts and ends as a drama, yet it brings out the horrors of reality and its many pleasures. In other words, the horror and the atmosphere leading to one such thing are always present, it just takes some time for them to activate. If you can wait until then, and if you are forgiving, then you may enjoy "Requiem". A film such as this can't … more